Sustainable Development News

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The next big war might be over phosphorus
A new article in the journal Science zooms way out to the big picture of humanity’s tenure managing the planet. It does so by zooming in sharply on a neglected, hugely important, enabler of life on Earth: soil. Soil is the foundation for everything we’ve built — all agriculture and civilization must grow from healthy soils. And we’re heading straight for some hard limits, beyond which soils will no longer support us. Or, as UC Berkeley soil scientist Ronald Amundson and his colleagues put it in this paper, “Soil is the living epidermis of the planet.” Soil helps regulate the carbon and water cycles — it’s a reservoir for both cycles, buffering them from shocks and feeding us, all at the same time.

[Ed: If you haven’t thought about the importance of soil and you’re unaware of the problems we face through upsetting the nitrogen cycle then this is an easy introduction]

Energy and Climate Change

Will a Paris climate change pact have any teeth?
Few experts RTCC has spoken to over the past three months believe there is any doubt that Paris will deliver a climate change pact.The potential for egg on French face is too high, the memories of the failed 2009 Copenhagen summit too raw, the harsh consequences for hundreds of vulnerable countries too severe.Instead, the question is will the deal be worth the reams of paper it’s likely to be printed on? And will it boast any teeth?

World Bank sets out three-step plan to help countries decarbonise
The cost of decarbonisation could grow by 50 per cent if governments delay action to 2030, according to a new World Bank report published today that aims to help countries tackle climate change. The report, Decarbonising Development, calls on countries to take a three-stage approach to decarbonisation based around setting a long-term end goal, establishing the right carbon prices to trigger changes in investment, and taking steps to smooth the transition to a low carbon economy for those most affected by climate policies, potentially in the form of compensation for industry groups. The report argues early action on climate change is cost-effective because it allows countries to take advantage of opportunities to switch to greener power sources as and when aging plants naturally come offline. In contrast, delaying a transition can “lock in” emissions that will make it harder to tackle climate change later down the line, it warns

Sea level is rising fast – and it seems to be speeding up
Many observations have shown that sea level rose steadily over the 20th century – and at a faster rate than over the previous centuries. It is also clear from both satellite and coastal observations that seas have risen faster over the past two decades than they did for the bulk of the 20th century. More recently, several studies have shown that the flow of ice and water into the oceans from Greenland and West Antarctica has increased since 1993. This raises an interesting question: has the rate of sea-level rise changed since 1993, when satellite observations began to give us a more complete picture of the global oceans?

Labor says no renewable energy deal if government keeps reviews
The long-running saga of Australia’s renewable energy target has entered another round with Labor declaring there will be no deal if the government continues to review the scheme. An eleventh hour government decision to retain two-yearly reviews has derailed a new bipartisan agreement that would have reduced the target from 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy production by 2020 to 33,000. The move, believed to have been put forward by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, has prompted a furious reaction from the clean energy industry, which has demanded that the government stand by its promise to scrap two-yearly reviews.

Shell to resume Arctic drilling off Alaska as green groups warn of disaster
The US government has given Shell approval to restart drilling in the Arctic despite repeated warnings from environmentalists that it could lead to an ecological disaster.  The Obama administration on Monday approved Shell’s plan to resume drilling for oil and gas in the treacherous and fragile waters off the coast of Alaska, three years after the Anglo-Dutch oil giant was forced to suspend operations following a series of potentially dangerous blunders. Scientists and environmental groups on Monday attacked the decision and warned that Shell’s “risky and ill-conceived exploration” plan could “lead to a disaster in the Arctic”.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Edinburgh university rejects calls to divest from all fossil fuels
Climate change campaigners reacted with disappointment as Edinburgh University announced on Tuesday that it would not fully divest from fossil fuels. Students lay down in protest on the steps of the building where senior vice principal Professor Charlie Jeffery set out the unanimous decision by the university’s court. Insisting that the university was committed to a change of investment policy, Jeffery said: “Our commitment is to engage before divestment, but the expectation is that we will bring about change by engagement.”

Environment and Biodiversity

100 British conservation groups oppose review of EU wildlife laws
One hundred British conservationist groups have launched a campaign to oppose a review of key wildlife protection laws which they say presents the single biggest threat to UK and European nature in a generation. Last week, the EU began a 12-week public consultation to look at the cost-effectiveness of the birds and habitats directives, their administrative burdens to business, and whether such goals could better be met at national level… “The habitats and birds directives are the foundation of nature conservation across Europe and are scientifically proven to be effective where properly implemented,” said Kate Jennings, the head of the RSPB’s site policy unit, and chair of the campaign. “The directives deliver demonstrable benefits for nature, as well as significant social and economic benefits.”

Sri Lanka first nation to protect all mangrove forests
Sri Lanka has become the first nation in the world to comprehensively protect all of its mangrove forests. A scheme backed by the government will include alternative job training, replanting projects and microloans. Mangroves are considered to be one of the world’s most at-risk habitats, with more than half being lost or destroyed in the past century. Conservationists hope other mangrove-rich nations will follow suit and adopt a similar protection model.

There’s much more to bees than queens, honey and hives
It’s bee season and now’s the time to go outside and observe these popular insects. Bees hold a relatively special place in people’s affections – we have them to thank for honey, of course, and they’re also essential pollinators of many food crops and wild plants. But most bees aren’t the snazzy hive-dwelling orange and black characters we know so well. In fact, there are around 20,000 species of bee globally and just seven of these are honeybees, and the vast majority of honeybee colonies belong to only one species: Apis mellifera. So what about the rest?

‘Substantial’ El Nino event predicted
The El Nino effect, which can drive droughts and flooding, is under way in the tropical Pacific, say scientists. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology predicted that it could become a “substantial” event later in the year. The phenomenon arises from variations in ocean temperatures. The El Nino is still in its early stages, but has the potential to cause extreme weather around the world, according to forecasters.

Economy and Business

Apple pledges to power Chinese factories with renewables
Apple is extending its 100% renewable energy goal to its Chinese factories, the technology giant announced this week.Its data centres are already fully powered by wind, solar and other clean sources, according to its last environmental responsibility report. Retail stores and corporate offices are following.Now the world’s second highest earning company is aiming to clean up the sector responsible for two thirds of its carbon footprint: manufacturing.

How your smartphone needs 13 tonnes of water
Nearly 13 tonnes of water and 18 square metres of land are required to produce just one smartphone, according to a new report that aims to help businesses calculate their demand for natural resources. The report, compiled by consultancy Trucost and campaign group Friends of the Earth, also shows that 25 tonnes of water are required to make a pair of leather boots in the Hazaribargh region of Dhaka, Bangladesh, where companies are allowed to dump untreated chemicals into the environment. Entitled Mind Your Step, the study examines the water “footprints” of a range of products, including coffee, ready meals, t-shirts and chocolate. It also shows how water use can decline or rise depending on how much environmental regulation countries have and enforce.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Up to 90% of world’s electronic waste is illegally dumped, says UN
Up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly $19bn (£12bn), is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to the UN Environment Programme (Unep). Computers and smart phones are among the ditched items contributing to this 41m tonne e-waste mountain, which could top 50m tonnes by 2017, Unep says in a new report launched today in Geneva. It follows last month’s UN University report, which outlined how 42m tonnes of electronic waste were thrown out in 2014 at a cost of $52bn to the global economy. Exporting hazardous waste from EU and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Member States to non-OECD countries is banned. However, Unep says thousands of tonnes of e-waste are falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries…

Food Waste is the New Haute Cuisine
Food waste is one of the most pressing social and environmental justice issues of our time, and innovators and entrepreneurs are jumping in to capture the waste. One catering service in Malmö, Sweden, is taking things beyond dumpster-diving. Rude Food is an all-volunteer, mostly vegan, food waste pop-up kitchen and catering service. Instead of just using leftovers, Rude Food intervenes at the farming, production, wholesale and retail levels to tackle waste across the value chain.

Jennifer Grayson: Why flowers are a bad gift idea
This year, Americans spent a collective US$2.4 billion ($3.3 billion) to buy Mom flowers. I understand the appeal. I’m a mum of two little girls, and my heart melts anytime they surprise me with a handful of dirt-clumped dandelions from our back yard. But while giving flowers may seem like a good way to show how much you love your mum, it’s a terrible idea if you care about Mother Earth.

Politics and Society

Ten things you should know about volunteering’s immeasurable value
AUSTRALIA – So, what is the most important event this coming week? No, not the federal budget. Rather, I believe it’s National Volunteer Week (11-17 May), which celebrates the contributions of one in four Australians. There are 10 core features of volunteering that should be considered to understand this integral, yet generally overlooked, part of our society.

Meet Six Brave Activists Who Risked It All for Their Communities
Each year the Goldman Environmental Foundation awards six lucky grassroots activists $175,000 each in recognition and in support of their efforts. This year’s winners were honored on April 20 at the San Francisco Opera House in a beautifully choreographed event introduced by Susie Gellman, the daughter of Richard and Rhoda Goldman, and hosted by journalist Dana King. Each of the winners was featured in a short film about their struggle, narrated by Robert Redford. Then the winners, gathered from all over the world, gave a brief speech. There is no doubt of their courage, commitment and vision. Each winner is something of an environmental hero: Some faced death threats, prison or loss of livelihood for standing up for their communities’ safety and survival. And in every case, the adversary was their own governments. Read on to meet them.

Child labour won’t stop with conflict-free labels and voluntary codes
A fight is brewing in Europe over new rules for companies to report on so-called “conflict minerals”, which are commonly found in mobile phones, laptops, lightbulbs and jewellery.  The minerals at stake are gold, tantalum, tungsten and tin, which are mined in conflict or high-risk areas, such as parts of Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe. Trade in these minerals can fund armed groups and fuel human rights abuses, in particular for children.


Boys with hammers hack at the rock face in deep tunnels or use shovels to collect stones containing the minerals in streams. Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images

Boys with hammers hack at the rock face in deep tunnels or use shovels to collect stones containing the minerals in streams. Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images

Food Systems

Meet the mentees
NEW ZEALAND – We’ve given four new food and beverage outfits the chance to be mentored by some of Auckland’s finest foodies and marketing gurus. Among them are winners of last year’s My Kitchen Rules, the ‘urban hippy’ duo, and a 2015 Cuisine Artisan award winner.  And these aren’t just any food and beverage companies – they’re new products still at the smaller scale that are pushing for good food in New Zealand. The products were selected because of their values, how the products were produced, what the ingredients are and what the company is trying to achieve.

Chef pushes social media to sell NZ’s lamb and beef story
A United States chef says the New Zealand beef and lamb grass-fed story needs to reach consumers through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Jason Roberts talked to hundreds of farmers at a breakfast AgInnnovation meeting in Palmerston North on Monday. “The smart phone is the new pacifier. On my way to work about 80 per cent of people were checking their smartphones. And there is less human contact as a result.” But he said social media is the best way to get the message out to potential consumers about New Zealand lamb and beef. “Don’t over-estimate the US consumers. I tell them New Zealand sheep and beef are fed on grass from the moment they are born until slaughter and most people are amazed and don’t know.”


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